Recently I read a small quote on Jesus Creed from somewhere else. In context it was okay, but I’m afraid I reacted quite differently to it than those who commented on the website. You see, in the middle was a sentence that said, if you want to know who you are then look at Jesus and try to imitate him to the best of your ability… Okay, in context it wasn’t so bad, but I have to admit my social gospel caution flags started flying. That has been my concern of late as I read that many of the younger generation are gung ho about feeding the poor and social justice issues. It’s all too easy, if that is your focus, to forget about having a relationship with Jesus, while you are busy doing things for Him.
Imitating Jesus sounds good on the surface. But maybe the younger generation can’t see where it ends up. I admit, this is based on distant memories from my growing up years. But I grew up in church you see, and started going to the services after Sunday school at a fairly young age. We had the option of going home with Dad, or staying and coming home with Mom (who was busy playing the organ) and the aunties, who brought us home in their car. I don’t doubt that the intentions were good, but what I heard growing up was a lot of admonitions to be a good person and imitate Jesus. This was usually followed by some example, such as Frank Laubach and his each one teach one literacy program, or Albert Schweitzer, lost in the jungles of Africa, or perhaps Mother Teresa. Hmm, looks like all Christians need to leave the USA and go live in third world countries and engage in missions. I have no doubt that those people are great examples of faith, but they weren’t much help to me in navigating the social jungles of late elementary school.
I liked church though, and tried to be a good Christian girl. Imagine my surprise, when I went to a Crusade and was told I could not even call myself a Christian unless I prayed a prayer asking God to forgive me of my sins and make me part of His family. Well I thought it over and figured it couldn’t hurt, so I went forward and prayed the prayer, expecting it not to change me or my circumstances one bit. Ah, but you see, God is real and right away I had the most amazing happy feeling jumping around in side of me, as if I had really done something momentous and right. And I wanted to really read my bible.
Now I am not saying that feeling, that I realized was joy, lasted very long. And even reading the bible was more complicated than reading a novel. But in some way that moment has affected my entire life since then. That’s why I call myself an evangelical, because I believe we have to decide to follow Jesus. Imitating him could have made me a good person, but He wanted to have a relationship with me. So, instead of trying to be like Jesus, I let him live in me and in the process He leads me into things that end up making me more like Him. It is as much a danger to lose yourself in a cause, however noble, as it is to lose yourself in legalism.
Whatever direction we go in, if it involves striving to do something, that should be a red flag. Whether it is striving to save the most souls, or feed the most people, the striving is the sign that you are trying to work your way into heaven. Take a step back and ask, am I doing this for God, or is He working through me? Is it his strength or mine? Is it His goal, or mine? I think there is a version that translates Be still and know that I am God, as cease striving and know that I am God.